The Dossier Project is an initiative of eight women who were members of DOS who state they are “dedicated to setting the record straight about DOS — a sorority which sought to empower and embolden women — and about NXIVM — a company and community which helped people live more joyful, successful, and compassionate lives.”
The eight woman are Nicki Clyne, Linda Chung, Leah Mottishaw, Danielle Roberts, Michele Hatchette, Sahajo Haertel, Samantha LeBaron, and Anglica Hinojos.
The women wrote about their mission as follows: “We stand for women’s agency and we believe in honoring truth above salacious sound bites and clickbait. Unfortunately, many facets of DOS have been misrepresented and contorted to serve a narrative that presupposes women are not capable of making bold choices. And that women can retroactively withdraw their consent without consequence.
“For the women you will hear from, as well as many others who remain silent, DOS was a profound experience of trust, vulnerability, character-building, and personal transformation. We recognize that the allegations against the organization and its conceptual founder are very serious and deserving of a rigorous investigation. We support this and have dedicated ourselves to understanding the complexities and nuances of the situation. We do not condone any type of abuse, coercion, or emotional manipulation, and we most certainly denounce illicit activity. We also do not condone trial by media and character defamation without due process.”
One of the eight women, Leah Mottishaw, writes about the value of the DOS brand – the brand placed on DOS “slaves”, most of whom were branded unaware that the symbol on it when turned counterclockwise 90 degrees is the initials of Keith Raniere.
Motttishaw is not an unintelligent woman. According to the Dossier Project, Mottishaw, 34, “has a background in science and business which she has leveraged in a unique career path that includes antibiotic research, hematopoietic stem cell storage, scientific consulting, technical writing/editing and professional development training (such as job readiness, team performance and entrepreneurship). She particularly enjoys working with specialized groups including women, entrepreneurs, Indigenous communities and teens. Leah is blessed to live in Vancouver, Canada with her growing family.”
Mottishaw published this article on branding on the Dossier Project and we are reprinting it in full. It is important to our investigation to understand how, in the teeth of so much negative publicity and startling revelations in court proceedings that Raniere, DOS and NXIVM were evil to the core, an accomplished person such as Mottishaw can maintain a position that her experiences were worthy.
Let’s try to read it with understanding, that people may be well-intentioned yet may still disagree. Let’s try when we comment to be at least a little considerate of others, including Mottishaw. We may disagree with the deed but perhaps can understand that the doer is not necessarily ill-intended, which I strongly suspect is the case with Leah Mottishaw.
Making a Mark: Branding as a Symbol of Empowerment
Like all the women who were invited to DOS, I was told about the brand in advance of saying yes. I remember at the time I was told about it, I asked whether I got to choose the design. The answer I got was, “no,” the design was already set, and I stopped my line of questioning there. Why? Because I was cool with it. Why was I cool with it? It simply never occurred to me that I would be put off or offended by the design. In hindsight, this might have been a reckless thing to do. What if the brand had been a swastika? What if it had been Bugs Bunny? I didn’t concern myself with the design because I was focused on how special and meaningful it would be to have a secret, shared brand with other women who were committed to making themselves better, stronger, and wiser.
Some people feel there never should have been a brand because the nature of a brand is somehow offensive, no matter what the symbol is. This leads to the question: should women be free to make decisions about their own bodies, even if others view the decision as wrong?
Some people might be okay with the concept of a brand but feel incensed that this brand contained a man’s initials, and I sympathize with such a response. This, however, brings us to a different and important question: should the design elements (specifically, the “KR” initials) have been disclosed to the sorority women before receiving the brand?
I’ll explore these questions below.
Choices and consequences
Should women be free to make decisions about their bodies, even if others view the decision as wrong?
Do women have the right to do what they want with their own bodies? Most rational, modern people say, “yes, of course!” Does that mean you should agree with everything a person chooses to do with their body? No, of course not. Can you support someone’s right to do something, while vehemently disagreeing with them exercising that right? Of course, you can.
Personally, I find ear spacers to be off-putting once they become the size of a quarter or so. I don’t condemn anyone who stretches their earlobes but I really don’t get why anyone would want to go that far!
On the other hand, I have observed that my own opinions on these things can change or morph over time, and so I endeavor to keep an open mind. For instance, ten years ago I thought it was just plain wrong for women to get breast implants (barring reconstructive surgery for breast cancer survivors or the like). I condescendingly judged breast implants as a vanity surgery that played into the objectification of women as no more than a sexual object to satisfy men. In the last ten years, my opinion has softened to the point that I see there are many layers and complexities to how a woman relates with her body. With this understanding, I now believe that the choice to get breast implants is extremely personal to each woman and I support every woman’s right to have the augmentation done if she chooses and can afford it.
How do you feel about a woman’s right to get a tattoo? I’m not asking if you like tattoos, but would you agree that an adult woman should be allowed to put one on her body? Maybe you think she shouldn’t be allowed to get a tattoo, period. However, if you do agree that she should be allowed a tattoo, then how do you feel if she gets one that she later regrets?
Do you know the song “Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)” by The Offspring? It’s a song that mocks this “white guy” who does a series of things trying and failing to be “hip.” In the lyrics, the vocalist sings, “Now he’s getting a tattoo yeah, he’s getting ink done. He asked for a 13, but they drew a 31.” In the spirit of the song, this is funny! Go ahead and do an internet search of “tattoo fails” and you will find pages dedicated to laughing at other people’s messed up tattoos. I believe the “white guy” in the song and all the people wearing “tattoo fails” on their skin have the right to get tattoos and by exercising that right, they simultaneously take on the risk of having something go wrong.
I am not saying that the brand is equivalent to a tattoo fail, but I believe the comparison allows for some relevant insights. And I specifically bring up tattoo fails with some self-deprecation because I have a tattoo with a Chinese character that is written incorrectly! I blame myself for this! And I still love my tattoo because it looks beautiful to me and the meaning of the tattoo is unchanged for me, even though the character is technically wrong. I like it so much that I would do it again even with the mistaken character.
I assert that it is my right and my choice to modify my body. The consequences of exercising that choice are also mine to bear. I believe the right to a choice and the right to its consequence are inseparable.
You can judge the sorority women’s choice to accept the brand however you like. You can even sympathize with any woman who regrets making the choice to get the brand. Here is the beauty of my assertions: it is empowering to all womankind to acknowledge the women of DOS had the right to both the choice and consequence of the brand.
Should the design elements (specifically, the initials) have been disclosed to the sorority women before receiving the brand?
Should the “KR” have been explained to the women before the branding was performed? You might think “yes, obviously!” and at first glance, I don’t disagree. When I first learned about the initials I was shocked and emotional.
I began to question why the initials were included and what the intent of the brand was. Because that is the real sticking point – the initials aren’t obvious in the design, so much so the media constantly needs to draw bright lines and turn the brand sideways to show the letters are there – but what did the designers mean by including these letters?
I made a point of speaking to some of the women responsible for creating the design and since then, I have reflected on other salient things I know. Taking all of that into consideration, here’s what I believe:
Having personal knowledge of all of the women who were part of creating the design, I firmly believe they included the initials without any intent to harm or offend.
The context is important. Every woman believed that the brand itself, not to mention the design, would remain private. The brand was never crafted to be scrutinized by society at large. No one ever thought it would be fodder for public discussion or that perfect strangers and outsiders to the sorority would be judging the brand or its design. To me, this idea of privacy and freedom from public adjudication would influence the design choices.
The woman who invited me was direct about letting me know that some things were secret and meant to be kept that way. I believe to this day that she did her best to give me all the information she thought I needed to make a good decision about joining or not. Even if she didn’t, it was still my choice to join with the understanding there were things I didn’t know.
The fact that I never asked or was told about the brand’s design or what it symbolized doesn’t change the beauty of what it personally symbolizes for me – a physical symbol of a commitment to a sisterhood of strong women seeking to better themselves and the world.
If you ask someone to have a child with you, or marry you, or go into business with you, do you give them all the information you think they need to make an informed decision? I hope so. But you might miscalculate. In my opinion, this is human and ultimately forgivable.
Finally, I have to be slightly critical of my emotional reaction to the initials. The design of the brand does contain “KR” but it also contains other letters and meanings. One of these meanings is a representation of the elements (earth, air, fire, water). I don’t know about you, but I do not feel the same gut response to the idea that women were not told about the element symbols, as compared to the initials. So what is it about the initials that is so provocative? I believe it points to deep-seated sexism.
Sexism underneath the outrage
This may seem like a leap at first glance, but bear with me while I explain my thinking…
If the situation were flipped and this was about a group of men, then the brand wouldn’t be the same problem. Picture it: a group of men create a secret ceremony where they all get an abstract design branded on or below their hip. Later, it is revealed that the design included a woman’s initials. Do you think society would be outraged that men were apparently labeled as property of the woman? I can’t picture the general public making that leap. Why not? Two reasons: 1) it’s absurd to imagine a woman “owning” men, and 2) because men are generally given license to do stupid sh*t (women, generally, are not).
In the first instance, history typically paints women as property, not property owners, so our societal tendency is to continue seeing women in this role. This is the opposite of equality because it actually perpetuates the objectification of women along with the belief they are the “weaker sex.” In the second case, I’m arguing that society at large would be completely fine to pass judgment on this hypothetical group of men (described above) as having done a “stupid” brand and too bad, they have to live with the woman’s initials on their pelvis. Underlying this attitude would be the belief that men are capable of making their own decisions (even bad ones) and they are adult enough or strong enough to deal with the consequences (even crappy ones.)
To be clear, I don’t see the DOS brand as stupid, I see it as deeply meaningful. I’m making this point about “stupid sh*t” to illustrate that the media story of the DOS brand could have been spun as a bunch of women making a “stupid” decision, but it wasn’t, due in large part to underlying sexist assumptions that pervade our culture. I believe if it were men who had a secret fraternity brand, this wouldn’t have made a splash.
If we want to live in a truly equal society, then men and women ought to be treated the same — as adults capable of making their own decisions and at times, mistakes.
I don’t have the authority to speak on anyone else’s experience, only my own. The point of this article is to open an uncomfortable conversation. There are wide ranges of experiences and opinions and I wrote this to share some of mine.
This wasn’t to convince you to think the brand is great, to be on board with the practice or to judge whether my thought process makes sense. As was the case when I said yes to DOS, I’m still committed to a world where women endeavor to be better, stronger and wiser, and I believe conversations like this can contribute to that aim.
Additional context, in case you’re wondering
My thoughts and opinions about the DOS brand are based on the following pertinent facts:
The founding members of DOS included the initials of their own initiative, not as a directive from Keith Raniere.
Every woman who received the brand gave approval for the final position of the brand on her hip/pelvis. The process was similar to how a person approves the stencil placement for a tattoo before any ink is applied.
Each woman invited to the sorority was told before joining that part of the membership in the group included getting a brand. Many women heard this requirement and said no to joining. There were no repercussions or hard feelings toward any woman who chose not to join.
The founding members of DOS chose the area just below the hip because it was an area that is often covered and would help keep the brand private so that the women could decide who would see that part of her body. The founding members also understood this area would be less painful than other parts of the body during the application process.
Male fraternities and athletic teams far and wide have been using brands as a unifying symbol of their membership and dedication to a group or philosophy without making headlines, receiving public ridicule or legal repercussions. On the contrary, it is often admired as a sign of strength and commitment. This was the intent of the DOS women.
In addition to many other symbols and meanings, the design of the DOS brand contains “KR,” which represents Keith Raniere’s initials. Symbolically, the brand was meant to be part of the physical representation of a woman’s commitment to the principles that DOS stood for. The initials were incorporated in the design as a subtle tribute to the person who helped the original DOS members. The initials were not meant to be the main focus, or even particularly obvious, and they were never intended to denote that a woman was anyone’s possession or property. (It was Mark Vicente, the media and the prosecution who made the offensive and horrific interpretation that women with a brand were as cattle or property. The women of DOS stood for the opposite of these diminishing concepts.)
There were zero criminal charges related to the brand. There has been media outrage and moral indignation, but there are no indictments.